Allen Park — After the Detroit Lions lost their season opener to the San Francisco 49ers, coach Dan Campbell spoke plainly about his team.
“Man, our margin for error is so small,” Campbell said. “We have to play the game a certain way. It’s just the way we are and the way we’re built. We cannot — we don’t have the luxury of making some of the mistakes we made and being able to win.”
That cropped up in Green Bay the following week, when the Lions took a lead into the half, but turned the ball over four times — twice on downs — in a scoreless second half. And it showed up against the Baltimore Ravens, when the Lions ceded a fourth-and-19 — one of a half-dozen communication errors in the secondary — that set up a game-winning field goal. And last week in Chicago, it was four wasted trips inside the Bears’ 10-yard line with two lost fumbles and two more fourth-down failures.
And while no team plays a perfect football game, turnover issues proved problematic for the third time in four weeks in Sunday’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings. And at the center of Detroit’s turnover problems is quarterback Jared Goff.
“That’ll certainly be something that we look at, cause it has, it’s killed us a couple weeks in a row,” Campbell said after Sunday’s game. “Whether we’ve got to, it could be as simple as trimming the calls back a little bit to where it’s a little bit more mainstream and to the point: Quick, easy, I see it in my head, we get lined up. It’s just a little less, maybe moving parts if you will. Maybe that’s where we can help a little bit, so we’ll look at everything with it, but it’s hurts us.”
The Lions offense isn’t simple, but it is conservative. They lean heavily on their ground game, at least when the score is close, and Goff is one of the NFL’s least-aggressive downfield passers.
That goes back to what Campbell said after the opener: The Lions have to play the game a certain way. It’s reflection of the players they have. But that conservative play-calling should lead to fewer turnovers, and that simply hasn’t been the case.
When Goff fumbled in the second quarter, it was the sixth time in the past four games he’s put the ball on the ground and the fourth he’s lost. Whether you want to blame the rainy weather in Green Bay, or a botched snap in Chicago (which Goff put on himself for poor communication with center Frank Ragnow), the fact remains, the quarterback is one fumble shy of his 2020 total through just five games.
And Goff’s issues with interceptions, while slightly down from a year ago when he had 13 passes picked, remain a concern.
To make matters worse, against Minnesota, both turnovers occurred when the Lions were in field-goal range, potentially costing them points in a game they lost by two.
“When you turn over in plus territory, I mean, that could be the difference in the game,” Campbell said. “Once again, we shoot ourselves in the foot and it hurt us. It hurt us.”
Goff said turnovers should be judged individually, not collectively. He noted while some might be ball security or bad decisions, others are defenders making great plays, like Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks snagging a one-handed interception.
Stated or not, he understands the slim margin of error and his role of narrowing it further with these errors. It’s something he’s trying to balance against playing timidly.
“Obviously, need to limit them, they need to go away. Right?,” Goff said. “But, I need to keep playing aggressively, like I always have and not allow things that may happen my way or their way, whatever it may be, affect the way that I play each play.”